‘Free tuition is not an unfair entitlement for students’: Panel discusses free tuition

    The St. Thomas University-based advocacy group, STUdents for Free Tuition, organized a panel where they brought the national chairperson from the Canadian Federation of Students. (Aaron Sousa/AQ) (Aaron Sousa/AQ)

    On Oct. 4, a panel called Fight the Fees was held at St. Thomas University, where panelists spoke about why education shouldn’t come with a price tag. Members of the panel included activist John Hutton, STU sociology professor Gül Çalıșkan, national chairperson for the Canadian Federation of Students Sophia Descalzi, fifth-year STU student Ariel Ottens and fourth-year STU student Naomi Gullison.

    The panel is the latest activity organized by the Students for Free Tuition campus-based advocacy group.

    Canadian students collectively owe $28 billion in loans, according to a 2018 Global News article. For the 2017-18 academic year, over 490,000 Canadian received grants from the Canada Student Loans Program, totaling $1.4 billion.

    New Brunswick students can receive financial help from the Renewed Tuition Bursary program, which helps students in financial need by providing them with a maximum bursary of $3,000 for university students and $1,500 for college students.

    Descalzi said Canada’s a wealthy country and has the money to invest, it’s only a matter of prioritization. 

    “When the government and the administration tells you that there’s no money, there is [money],” she said. 

    “They’re just not prioritizing students’ needs and students’ interest.”

    A Global News article says Canadians collectively owe $28 billion in loans. (Aaron Sousa/AQ)

    Descalzi said the answer to free tuition is organizing against “regressive” governments. She said Canada needs a form of taxation where the rich “pay their fair share” so free education could be possible.  

    Çalıșkan said students need to make themselves visible and speak up for what they believe in if they want change. She also said students should work with professors who will support students in the fight for free tuition. Çalıșkan said professors can organize workshops and training activities on activism.

    Gullison, one of the founders for Students for Free Tuition, ran for the St. Thomas Students’ Union student executive position in 2018, during her second year. She wasn’t elected. She said the loss made her reflect on herself and wonder what went wrong and what needs to be done. She asked teachers for help on how to organize people.

    “It helps to see not only the diversity of problems that those groups are facing but the diversity of solutions for those problems as well,” Gullison said.

    Sofia Descalzi, national chairperson for the Canadian Federation of Students, said Canada is a wealthy country. (Aaron Sousa/AQ)

    When Çalıșkan studied in Turkey, she said tuition was “minimal” and “very affordable.”

    Other countries such as Sweden and Denmark covers tuition for college students, according to Business Insider.

    Affordable tuition gave Çalıșkan a chance to pursue something she was interested in studying. Çalıșkan said education isn’t a luxury or a choice but a right, and free tuition would help level the playing field and give more students opportunities to learn. 

    “Free tuition is not an unfair entitlement for students, they are a sensible public policy.”